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5 Ways to Keep Your Team Motivated in 2020

As a manager and leader, it is your responsibility to maximize productivity.

Your actions have a massive influence on the job satisfaction, effectiveness, and motivation of your team. While individual contributors are each focused on their own narrow areas, it is up to you to evaluate the big picture and ensure that they are operating as an integrated team. Doing this usually requires focusing on day-to-day concerns, but it is useful to step back every now and then to ask yourself if there is anything you and your team could be doing better. Is there another tool or technique you can add to make sure that your department, your division, or your company is succeeding as much as possible? To find out, we reviewed decades of research from top business and psychology experts to better understand the intricacies of employee motivation.

Diversity as a Key Driver of Success

On the surface, the idea that improved teamwork is key to motivating employees seems obvious, but what is less obvious is how exactly to improve collaboration between team members. Decades of clinical and executive research have found that it is not grand speeches, it is not the personalities of the team members, and it is not fear. What drives team effectiveness is a set of enabling conditions that lay the foundation for success.

In almost 50 years of research into organizational behavior, Harvard Psychologist J. Richard Hackman found several conditions under which teams work best. Of these, the most overlooked is diversity. When it comes to having a strong structure and culture, diversity is critical. Certainly, this is true when it comes to the various skill sets required on any team. But the same need extends to diversity of background, age, race, gender, sexual orientation, and especially thought. Avoiding groupthink and echo chamber problems is critical to maintaining successful, motivated teams.

The World Bank has researched the phenomenon of groupthink among its teams extensively and found that teams with members from multiple backgrounds nationally, linguistically, and professionally achieve both better and longer lasting results than more homogenous teams. The effect was even more pronounced when individual team members had each lived in more than one country, city, or region. The power of cosmopolitan diversity created teams that were able to collaborate on novel problems drawling on knowledge of multiple structures, banking practices, and local norms. That success created a momentum that pushed those teams to levels of effectiveness far beyond the less diverse teams.

Setting Goals: You Have to Know Where You’re Going to Actually Get There

So, we know that diversity, especially diversity of thought, within a team is extremely valuable, but we also know that it is not enough. To motivate your team to achieve its peak performance, you must also understand the empirically tested aspects of goal setting. Merely setting goals is not enough; you must also understand how to structure those goals for maximum impact. Repeated testing across multiple fields and businesses has found that setting the right kinds of goals is critical to success and motivation.

How does one set the right kind of goal? To answer this question, we turn to Edwin Locke, a pioneer in psychology and goal-setting theory. In his decades of research, Locke found that effective goals shared certain characteristics.

Specific Goals Are Best: The more specific and clear a goal is, the less room there is for confusion or misunderstanding. A key element to this specificity is timeframe. Setting deadlines makes the creation of plans much more effective. Goals like “We need to increase earnings by $10,000 this quarter,” have more of an impact than goals like, “We need to make more money.”

Goals Need to Be Challenging: Modest goals do not motivate employees. Goals need to feel like significant accomplishments in order to spur an increase in effort and have a payoff in satisfaction. However, there is a limit to how challenging a goal can be. If a goal feels unachievable, it will have the opposite effect and demotivate your team.

Goals Need to Be Accompanied by Appropriate Feedback: Whether or not a goal is accomplished, your team needs your input about how and why they succeeded or came up short. By reviewing their actions, you can either reinforce the positive behavior that helped accomplish a goal or prevent negative behaviors from derailing future goals. Teaching your team how to improve boosts overall job satisfaction and motivation, whether the feedback is positive or negative, as long as it’s perceived as fair.

Know When to Reward Your Team

Acknowledging that feedback is critical to employee motivation leaves us with an interesting question: does it matter when you reward your employees for a job well done? According to psychologists and business researchers, it matters a great deal. Study after study finds that immediate rewards have a much larger impact on employee motivation and on long-term performance.

This is true even on a granular scale. Rather than waiting to reward your team at the end of a successful project, rewards given out immediately after the completion of a specific task have been found to increase enjoyment, interest, and effort. In a University of Chicago study conducted by Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach, workers who were given rewards for completing tasks early in a project remained more motivated throughout the entire project, even if the rewards stopped part-way through. The early boost to motivation carried through the entire effort, even after it ceased. In fact, immediate rewards were found to be twice as effective at boosting motivation compared to larger, but delayed rewards.

To many, this seems counterintuitive. Rewarding people before a project has been completed is often thought to decrease motivation, as there is less to look forward to at the end. However, though this may be accurate for many aspects of life, Woolley explains that work is different. With a job, your salary is already a large part of your motivation, so it is hard to influence the extrinsic reasons to work harder when salary is not affected. However, small, and immediate rewards boost intrinsic motivation and create increased interest in a task compared to no rewards or rewards given at the end of a project. The immediate reward creates a strong mental and emotional link between the work and a feeling of positivity that actually makes the task itself more pleasant.  This, in turn, spurs motivation.

This information can be especially useful when employees are working from home. The lack of regular, in-person contact can impact motivation and effort. However, understanding how and when to reward your team can make sure they feel appreciated and that they maintain positive feelings about their work, even in the absence of live, social reinforcement.

Environment Matters

Your office environment has more of an impact on employee mood, effectiveness, and motivation than you may realize. An office with lots of natural light, aside from looking much nicer to prospective clients, has a variety of health benefits for you and your team. Natural light can boost Vitamin D production, which in turn improves mood, concentration, productivity, and decreases depression. Employees working in natural light, all else being equal, are much more motivated and effective than those working under humming florescent lights.

This is not only true because of the quality and impact of the light source, but it also reflects another critical aspect of the work environment: sound. Extraneous sounds, noses, and interruptions, like loud industrial lights, disrupt the flow of thought and can waste time and effort. A quiet, controlled workspace will boost productivity by minimizing these distractions.

In an office, full ceiling to floor glass walls and partitions can help accomplish all of this, especially if they are engineered to dampen sound. Whether you are looking for the most beautifully designed walls or the most brilliantly engineered walls, there are options for every office.

Aside from the light and sound benefits of full glass walls, at a basic level, being able to see your peers in-person makes it much, much easier to work. The non-verbal cues that you can pick up on in an in-person meeting or by making eye-contact can help you understand whether a team member is bored, anxious, or relaxed about a given subject. This can offer you more information than a 500-word email. An understanding may be reached in seconds in-person but could take half an hour over email, with various levels of meaning needing to be explicitly spelled out.

A good leader will adapt to these needs when their people are working from home. Tell employees to open their blinds or curtains to let in sunlight. Also, have them attempt to set up a quiet space to work. Though this may seem obvious, when your team is working from home, they may simply sit where they are used to sitting all the time when relaxing. Though the living room couch is comfortable, it is often not a great place to work or get light. Reminding your employees to create a dedicated space for work can dramatically impact their mood and productivity.

Positivity is Key

Though the idea that a positive atmosphere is critical for employee motivation runs throughout the previous sections, it nevertheless merits its own discussion. All kinds of negativity can impede your attempts to motivate your team to be the very best versions of themselves. Not only will negativity interfere in how receptive your team is to your guidance, but it will interfere with their communication with each other. Stress is a barrier to effectiveness. Anger clouds decision making. Frustration makes communication difficult. Positivity is the key to receptive, communicative teams.

Positivity is what ties the various aspects of motivation together. Whether it’s assembling a diverse team to maximize effectiveness, setting challenging but achievable goals, knowing when to reward your team, or understanding the impact environment has on their moods, all of these areas of focus are designed to create a positive and engaged attitude in your employees. The ability to do this will determine the extent to which your efforts to maximize productivity will be successful.

Key Takeaways:

  • Diversity, in all its forms, creates the most effective teams. Never underestimate how powerful your results can be when drawling upon diverse experiences.
  • The difficulty of the goals you set will determine how much those goals motivate your team. Finding goals that pose enough of a challenge to create a sense of accomplishment without undue frustration is best.
  • When progress towards a goal has been made, do not hesitate to offer an immediate, if small, reward. Small rewards along the way create powerful and positive associations with the work.
  • Environmental factors such as light, sound, and the ability to see team members have a large influence on your team’s mood and motivation.
  • Positivity, fostered in any way available, is the fuel for the most highly motivated and effective teams.

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